Robert Barron column: Regular folks getting priced out of market

Simply seniors on fixed incomes and those who have been priced out of the rental marketplace

The fact that people can’t even rent a standard road-side motel room for less than $1,500 a month in Duncan should concern us all.

I recently met a group of tenants that had been staying at a local motel for most of the winter at a reduced off-season rate, but the motel is switching to its summer rates as of May 1, making the accommodations out of the price range of many of its long-term tenants.

One senior citizen on a fixed income told me she is paying approximately $900 a month for a small one-bedroom unit with a small kitchen at the motel, but that is expected to rise to about $1,500 a month on May 1.

It’s not the fault of the motel, which is a business trying to make a profit and shouldn’t be expected to try to deal with the social ills in the Valley.

But the rents that are expected these days of low-income people are staggering.

After all, I’m paying approximately $1,000 each month on a mortgage on a lovely two-bedroom house that I bought almost a decade ago with large front and back yards.

When I used to rent, about $600 a month would get you a decent and clean apartment that you would be proud to live in.

But B.C. now has some of the highest rents and lowest vacancy rates in Canada, and the Cowichan Valley reportedly has a vacancy rate of about one per cent.

That’s largely because the population of the region is growing, and the housing market is not keeping up with demand, which drives up property values and rents.

It should then come as no surprise that we are seeing a surge of homeless people in the Valley, and beyond, with many carrying all their meagre belongings in shopping carts and sleeping when and where they can.

What was even more distressing about the people facing the large rent increases at the motel was that a number of them have school-aged youngsters.

It was difficult to watch them playing in the parking lot while I talked to their parents about their plight, oblivious to the fact that their lives could change dramatically for the worse in the coming weeks.

There are some initiatives taking place in the Valley to at least try to make a dent in this increasing problem, including two affordable housing projects in North Cowichan and greater availability of secondary suites in the municipality.

The province is also stepping up to the plate with a modular housing program that has placed temporary modular homes in numerous communities across B.C. to house the homeless.

But, unfortunately, NIMBYism has come into play in many of these communities, including Nanaimo which recently lost $7 million in provincial funding to set up 44-units in Chase River in the city’s south end after an outcry from the neighbours halted the project in its tracks.

To be sure, nobody wants the problems typically associated with the homeless, including drug use, next door to their homes.

But most of the people at the motel I talked to were not drug users or criminals, they were simply seniors on fixed incomes and those who have been priced out of the skyrocketing rental marketplace due to their limited incomes.

Solutions must be found and, in the meantime, we should show more compassion and understanding for those less fortunate around us.

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